Fireclick Sparks Faster Web Site Performance

SAN MATEO (03/20/2000) - Startup Fireclick is joining the e-commerce vendor race this week, aiming to improve Web site performance with predictive caching, a technology that may become a strong complement to both traditional caching appliances and content delivery.

Fireclick, launched this week, unveiled Blueflame, a server-based software caching product that works by sitting next to an e-commerce site's origin server, auto-downloading a Java applet into the client's browser, and analyzing the Web site's click stream and usage patterns in real time.

Using that data and a set of probability algorithms, Blueflame can predict where a user is most likely to go next, and uses idle bandwidth to begin pre-downloading elements of those pages into a user's browser cache, speeding up site response times.

"We're not exactly trying to predict what page that you go to, but we're trying to predict what elements of pages you're going to need," explained Steve O'Brien, vice president of marketing at Fireclick.

"So, for example, if there's 14 possible links on a site, but 12 of them have a picture of Tiger Woods, then we can pre-download the picture of Tiger Woods so that no matter what page you go to, you get the benefits of that predictive pre-download," O'Brien added.

Blueflame can also accelerate dynamic content, company officials claim, and Fireclick expects to offer features such as a content adaptation capability during the second half of 2000. Fireclick will add its service to ISPs and wireless markets in 2001.

"[Predictive] caching is great if it's for one individual because if you're on the end of a phone line, there's no one else who's going to prerequest the content for you," said Peter Christy, vice president of the Internet Research Group, in Los Altos, Calif. "It's not a new concept in computing; [but] it's just sort of amazing, given the potential benefit, that standard Web servers and browsers don't do it already."

Other caching companies, such as Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Workfire.com, are also working on predictive caching technology for future products.

"I think predictive [caching] will be one piece of the link between content delivery and caching," said Nicholas Swart, vice president of advanced technology at Workfire.com. "It's validating the idea we've pursued of using intelligence on the server side with nothing or very light software on the client side to enhance the Web browsing experience."

Caching appliance vendors agree that the technology is a good complement to their own devices and services and can work in tandem with existing caching devices to push response times lower.

However, Patrick Harr, director of product management at Novell, is a bit wary about declaring predictive caching to be the caching market's future.

"It's my belief that you have to be very careful in doing predictive behavior because of the tendency toward unnecessarily utilizing bandwidth," Harr said.

Fireclick, in Los Altos, Calif., is at www.fireclick.com.

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